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Nanotech Multi-Drug Delivery Technique Devised for Cancer

Cancer in headline


10 December 2015. A pharmacy lab at Oregon State University developed a technique for combining three drugs into nanoscale particles that treat melanoma spreading to lymph nodes in lab animals. The team led by Oregon State pharmacy professor Adam Alani published its proof-of-concept findings last month in Journal of Controlled Release (paid subscription required).

Alani’s team — with colleagues from Oregon State in Portland, Kingston University in the U.K., and Pacific University in Hillsboro, Oregon — are seeking better ways of treating metastatic melanoma, the advanced and aggressive form of skin cancer that spreads to other parts of the body, often through the lymphatic system. Increasing dosages of chemotherapy drugs to treat melanoma can cause toxic reactions in many cancer patients, while treating patients with one drug at a time can cause resistance to develop to the drugs. “Melanoma has a high mortality rate,” says Alani in a university statement, “because the lymph nodes tend to act as a haven for cancer cells, and allow them to resist treatment through chemotherapy.”

To meet this resistance, the researchers designed a drug delivery system specifically for uptake by lymph nodes, which they surmised would decrease resistance and be more effective. Their system combines three cancer drugs with biocompatible polymers, then breaks the drug payloads into nanoparticles, about 48 nanometers in size; 1 nanometer equals 1 billionth of a meter.

In their nanoparticles, the team uses the chemotherapy drugs docetaxel and everolimus, with LY294002, a small molecule drug that inhibits signaling pathways supporting tumor growth. The particles also have varying charges added to their polymer surface: no charge, partial charge, or full charge.

The drug nanoparticles were injected under the skin in two groups of lab mice induced with metastatic melanoma. The researchers found the mice tolerated the nanoparticle drugs, based on their survival times, weight, appearance, and blood analysis.

The team found as well that the drug nanoparticles with partial charges on their surface are more effective in traveling to lymph nodes, both close to the injection site and more distant, as well as decreasing the number of skin cells affected by melanoma in those lymph nodes. Nanoparticles with neutral charges reach lymph nodes near the injection sites, but not those further away, while fully-charged particles have no effect on any lymph nodes.

Alani and colleagues plan to expand their tests with animals to other aggressive types of cancer including breast, head and neck, prostate, pancreatic, lung and gastric cancers. The university filed for a patent on the technology, and a start-up commercialization fund at the university is supporting the group’s research.

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